01/02/2013 02:37 EST | Updated 03/04/2013 05:12 EST

Toronto cops and SIU embroiled in public tiff over beating complaint

TORONTO - Several Ontario police agencies and watchdogs kicked off the new year on an icy note as a spat over a document became a public airing of tensions.

Ontario's police watchdog issued a news release Wednesday accusing the Toronto police of impeding an investigation into a beating allegation against one of its officers, saying the situation is "almost comical."

Ian Scott, the director of the Special Investigations Unit, decried what he called the Toronto Police Service's refusal to hand over the man's original complaint and suggested the force is in breach of its legal duty to co-operate with the SIU.

Toronto police issued its own tersely worded statement minutes later, saying, "He is wrong."

Tyrone Phillips, 27, filed a complaint on Aug. 8 with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, alleging he was beaten unconscious when he was arrested outside a Toronto nightclub on July 28.

The OIPRD forwarded his complaint to Toronto police on Sept. 19, and on Oct. 12 the police referred the complaint to the SIU, which investigates reports of death, serious injury or sexual assault.

Phillips does not have his own copy of the complaint because it was submitted through an online form, Scott said, so the SIU asked Toronto police for a copy. The original complaint is needed because it is Phillips' freshest account of the incident, Scott said.

Because Phillips filed his complaint with the OIPRD the Toronto Police Service considers the document to be that agency's, said Mark Pugash, director of Toronto police corporate communications.

"The only way we can release it is if we get the OIPRD's permission," he said in an interview.

"We have not been given the OIPRD's permission so we have no authority to release something that belongs to someone else unless they give us their permission. That hasn't happened. So, it's quite simple."

The SIU did ask the OIPRD for the complaint, Scott said, but was told that agency doesn't give any material to any agency other than the affected police service.

The Toronto police also asked the OIPRD for its permission to release the document to the SIU, but given the current situation, Pugash said it's clear what their answer was.

Rosemary Parker, a spokeswoman for the OIPRD, said she couldn't comment on a specific case, but what she did say suggests a simple solution to the fracas.

The Police Services Act requires the office to preserve the confidentiality of the information they receive and therefore the OIPRD doesn't share information with the SIU, she said.

However, if an individual wanted a copy of a complaint they made to the OIPRD, the office would certainly give it to them, Parker said in an interview.

The SIU got Phillips to sign a form giving the Toronto police permission to release his complaint, but since Toronto police considers the document to belong to the OIPRD, that did not prompt them to give it to the SIU.

In response to the solution seemingly offered by Parker, Scott said that "knocking on doors again and again is not necessarily the best use of (the SIU's) time and resources."

"Other police services have provided to us, with no issue, the original complaint filed by the complainant to the OIPRD," Scott said in an email.

"Claims by TPS that the service can't release documents without permission from the OIPRD is without foundation."

The case is at a standstill and is now closed, Scott said in his news release.

"If the TPS chooses to provide that statement to the SIU at a later date, the unit will reopen and complete its investigation into this matter."

There is one other route Scott said he could take, but he also questioned its effectiveness while bringing another police oversight agency into the mix.

"I could complain to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, but if I complain about the chief the complaint goes to the police services board," he said.

"I've had other dealings with the Toronto Police Services Board and I'm not frankly convinced that they would take the complaint with the degree of solemnity that they should."

Alok Mukherjee, head of the Toronto Police Services Board, said he was "livid" about Scott's comment.

"The law requires the board to deal with complaints against the chief in a very particular way and my expectation is that if there was a complaint against the chief the board will follow the letter of the law," he said.

"There is obviously a serious legal issue. Why would Scott not ask OIPRD to refer the issue jointly with SIU to the Attorney General for a legal interpretation? After all, (the Ministry of the Attorney General) has ministerial jurisdiction over both agencies and the public complaints system...I am frankly perplexed."